*This is my first attempt at writing a story. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy.*
Chapter 1: Won't Go Back
It was cold. The chill in the air bit through her like a piranha, making the fingers she used to clasp her sweater closed feel shredded and bloodless. Her feet were bare, numb as they carried her over a terrain covered in patches of dead grass and rugged gravel. A wide, silver moon was the only light that cut through the inky darkness.
Looking over her shoulder, she picked her way over the ground carefully. Her heart beat a dull thud in her chest; if she made any noise, she knew he'd hear it. She knew he'd come after her.
Tremors racked her rail thin body, the flimsy slip of a nightgown she wore barely a fitting barrier against the winter night. Her head whipped around at the sound of a faint howling in the distance.
"You can't run away from me, you bitch!"
The fear that had wrapped itself around her now threatened to snap her in two. She couldn't help the scream that was ripped from her throat as she heard his voice, then his heavy footsteps, come from not too far behind her. She broke into a blind run, unable to feel the branches of the pine trees scratching and pulling at her clothing and flesh.
"You're a smart one," the raspy voice growled, a sick amusement plain in his tone. "How'd you manage to break loose?"
She kept running, her breath forming a fog around her face. Her right knee clipped a fallen pine, catching on its rough edge. Warm blood trickled down her shin, but she didn't feel it.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll come home with me," the voice said again, quieter this time. This was a dangerous thing -- he was not the type who yelled in his rage. He was silent in his torture, soundless in his wrath.
Tears slipped from the corners of her eyes. They froze on her cheeks. Gulping at the air, the iciness served to clear her head. Must get away, was her only thought. Can't let him catch me. She took a sharp right, careening wildly through the dense forest. Her only hope was that it was too dark to see her.
The howling that had been so faint just minutes before seemed to be growing louder with every step she took. In fact, it distracted her.
She had but a moment to register that she was falling, and then, nothing.
The radio wasn't receiving any reception. Roland McTierney fiddled with the dial, despite knowing from experience that it wouldn't do any good. He turned his attention back to the road, his headlights cutting into the blanket of night.
His truck continued along the winding road that led to his cabin. His surroundings were masked by darkness, but Roland didn't need light; he'd grown up and spent most of his life in these mountains, and he knew his way around these roads like the back of his hand. Even then, his night vision was extremely good, allowing him to see things that would be hidden to the human eye. Credit my genes, he thought, smirking as his eyes swept over the landscape.
His ears perked to the sound of howling in the near distance. Strange, Roland mused. They don't usually come so near the highway. All his senses alert, he took his foot off the gas, his truck slowing to a crawl as he looked more closely at the encircling forest.
Suddenly a white form tumbled from the edge of the trees and onto the surface of the road. "Shit!" Roland cursed, swerving his vehicle so as not to run over the body. Turning off the engine, he jumped out of the truck and slammed the door. He broke into a run, hoping whatever it was that had landed in the middle of the highway was still alive.
Roland knelt beside the body, rolling it over gently and feeling for a pulse. His breath caught when he saw that it was a battered young woman who lay unconscious before him. Bruises and dried blood coated her skin and her tattered clothing, and her long hair was tangled and matted to her scalp. Swearing softly, he hurried to pull off his flannel jacket in order to cover her with it. He was amazed she was alive, considering the extreme cold and the condition she was in. What's happened to you? he wondered.
Gingerly, Roland worked his arms underneath the frail girl. Lifting her and cradling her to his chest, he was shocked at how light she was. He could break her into pieces without any effort. "You're gonna be alright," he murmured, not knowing if she could hear him. Moving carefully in case she had any broken bones, he opened the passenger door of his truck and laid her on the seat. He rushed around to the driver's seat, cautiously placing the girl's head in his lap after he'd buckled himself in.
Turning the key in the ignition, Roland's mind was buzzing. The nearest hospital was at least thirty miles away, and with the state the girl was in he didn't know if there was time to waste. Deciding his cabin was much closer, he straightened the wheel and floored it.
"Don't worry, little one," Roland murmured, smoothing his hand over the girl's hair. "You're safe now."
She could hear a fire crackling; it glowed orange behind her eyes. Suddenly feeling very heavy, she moaned, every nerve in her body burning with exhaustion.
"Quiet now, you'll make yourself sick."
The shushing was gentle and masculine, an almost reprimand. Turning her head toward the sound, she was able to lift her eyelids just enough to see the blurry outline of someone sitting near her head.
"There now, go back to sleep, you'll feel better in the morning."
And then she was sinking, the weight of blackness proving too much for her to fight.
Roland sat anxiously at the bedside, keeping vigilant watch over the girl. He had used soap and warm water to clean the blood from her body, using gauze to patch up any wounds. He'd replaced the ragged, paper thin nightgown she had been wearing with one of his sweatshirts. It was huge on her, but it was the best he could do. She had a fever and continuous shivers; every hour or so she woke up for brief moments, disoriented and weak.
Rubbing the sore muscles in his neck, Roland stood up and walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. He stifled a yawn, fighting the fatigue that swept over him. He had given his bed to the girl, and with the added worry over her condition Roland was in no mood to sleep.
Plugging in the coffee pot, Roland walked to the large double-paned window that overlooked his property. Sometime during the night it had begun to snow; the ground was covered in a light blanket of white, and with the reflecting moonlight the earth appeared to glitter.
Thoughts turning back to the young girl in his bed, Roland sighed deeply. Lord knew she'd been through hell; the idea that that hell had been in these mountains disturbed him greatly. As far as he had always known, the Wolfsbane range was a peaceful place. He was eager for the girl to regain consciousness so he could find out exactly what had happened.
That's if you can get her to tell you, Roland thought, stirring cream and sugar into his coffee. He knew more than most that some secrets were worth keeping.
Roland took his steaming mug of coffee back to the bedroom, settling in the leather armchair in the corner of the room with a heavy sigh. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, his dark brown hair hung shaggily across his face. If she woke up right now, you'd probably scare her half to death, Roland thought with dark amusement. In truth, he did cut an intimidating figure. His hair came down to his shoulders, and looked sorely in need of a brushing. Dark stubble covered the entire length of his jaw, and his eyes were a piercing silver-gray. A jagged, pearly scar ran from his left eyebrow and down beneath the whiskers on his chin. His frame was broad-shouldered and long -- even underneath his bulky sweater and jeans, one could tell he was mostly muscle.
Settling back in the chair, Roland took a sip of coffee and stretched his long legs out in front of him. He studied the girl from afar. She appeared to now be in a deep sleep, a slight frown marring her youthful face. She was tiny, and quite pale; she looked white, even against the white of the bed sheets. Her long, blonde hair lay in a halo around her head, spilling across the pillows. Full eyelashes curled against her cheeks, and her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm.
Roland smiled a bit. She's kinda pretty, he thought, taking another sip of coffee. How anyone could raise a hand to such a small, sweet looking creature was beyond him, and a swell of anger coursed through him as he clenched a fist.
He wanted to protect this girl. But the only way he could protect her was if he knew what they were up against. Sleep for now, little one, Roland thought somberly. It seems we've got a fight ahead of us.
She opened her eyes, the space around her gradually coming into focus. She was in a bedroom, its outline fuzzy in the aftermath of a deep sleep. Reaching up to wipe away the last remnants of unconsciousness, she noticed a figure in the corner.
It was a man, and he appeared to be dozing. He held a mug in his right hand, and it was tipping precariously in his slackened grip. Alarm reverberated through the girl, until she reasoned that if the man had wanted to harm her, he probably would have done so already.
She stretched carefully, wincing at the soreness in her limbs. Her head was throbbing, as though she had taken a blow. Carefully, she reached a hand up to her forehead, noting that even the gentlest of touches caused her pain.
As if he could sense she was awake, the man in the armchair woke up with a start. The girl froze, her eyes transfixed on the most intense, unusual eyes she had ever seen.
His silver stare cut right through her; had it not been for concern she saw in them, she might have screamed. "Hello," the man said quietly, leaning forward in the chair. "How are you feeling?"
The man's kind voice seemed out of place, considering how he looked. He was a tall man, much larger than she, and he seemed to fill the room as he stood up and walked slowly to the bedside. With his unkempt hair and angular face, he was attractive in the rugged sense. There was no question that this man was capable of being very menacing if he wanted to be. However, his presence seemed to have a calming effect. The girl relaxed a little in spite of herself.
"I'm okay, I guess," she managed to croak, her throat feeling dry and raspy.
"There's a glass of water on the nightstand, if you want it," the man offered, gesturing to the small oak table near the bed. "You've had quite the night."
The girl looked toward the window, noticing that it appeared to be early morning. "How long was I asleep?" she asked worriedly, taking a swallow of the water and relishing the taste as it soothed her throat.
The man shrugged. "About nine hours, I'd say," he answered, never taking his eyes off of her. They sat for a few moments in silence, the girl drinking the water, and the man watching her contemplatively.
"I'm Roland, by the way," he said finally, reaching over to take the glass when she'd emptied it. He paused a moment to admire the intense blue of her eyes. "Roland McTierney."
"Nice to meet you," the girl replied. "I'm Molly. Molly Thomas."
Roland smiled, and Molly had to look away. Friendliness was not something she was used to; she was unsure how to react to it. "It's nice to meet you as well, Molly," Roland said, his voice low and rumbling.
Molly blushed, her eyes dipping to where her hands lay clasped in her lap. "Thank you very much for taking care of me, Mr. McTierney," she said, anxiety beginning to swell within her chest. "I'm sure I've inconvenienced you enough as it is, though, so I should be going."
Roland held out a hand to stop her as she made to get out of the bed. He frowned when he saw her flinch, knowing she expected him to hit her. Another wave of anger washed over him as he thought of the abuse the poor thing must have suffered in her past. "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you," he said quietly. He waited for her to look at him before he spoke again. "You are not an inconvenience," he assured her. "I want to help you. Please allow me to."
Molly stared up at him, her head tilted almost all the way back in order to meet his eyes. She didn't know whether or not she could trust him. She'd always been warned against strangers... then again, those familiar to her had never exactly done her any favors. "I appreciate the offer, Mr. McTierney, but..." she began, only to be cut off.
"Please, call me Roland," he said, sitting on the edge of the bed. He tried not to sigh in frustration when Molly immediately shifted away from him. Gritting his teeth, he forced his voice to remain calm. "When I found you last night, you were in a right state. You could've died. All I want is to see to it that you regain your strength. Then, if you'd like, I can take you home -"
"No!" Molly interjected, the force of it causing her voice to break. "I won't go back! I won't!" Tears welled in her eyes, and she began to heave with the signs of an oncoming panic attack.
Roland, alarmed, attempted to place his hands on her shoulders. She writhed away from him, her legs becoming tangled in the sheets as her upper body tumbled to the floor. Molly landed hard on the palms of her hands; her fingers clawed at the wooden floor as she tried to stand up. Her legs were like that of a newborn foal, shaky and unwilling to support her weight. "Let me go!" she screamed, fear causing her throat to feel constricted. "Let me out of here!"
She fought to stand, and only doubled her efforts when she felt a pair of arms wrap around her. "Let me go!" she screamed again, flailing her fists, trying to free herself. But the arms around her held strong.
"You're safe," Roland murmured, raising a hand to pet her hair in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "I'm not going to hurt you. If you don't want to go home, you don't have to. No one's going to hurt you here. You're safe." He repeated his words over and over again, trying to penetrate her hysterical haze.
Eventually Molly went limp in his arms, her head resting against his chest. She was immobile and silent, but she no longer struggled against him. She was so quiet that Roland couldn't even hear her breathing. "Is it alright if I put you back in bed?" he whispered, still petting her hair. She nodded, almost imperceptibly. Scooping up her slight form, Roland turned and deposited her on the mattress, taking time to straighten the sheets and tuck them in tightly around her. Within seconds Molly had fallen into another deep sleep.
Taking his coffee mug and the water glass, Roland walked out of the bedroom and quietly shut the door behind him. Christ, what had he gotten himself into? She was definitely scared of something. Something at home, wherever that was. What was it she was running away from?
After straightening up the kitchen, Roland sank down onto the couch and laid his head against the armrest. He was exhausted after his hours-long vigil, and the effort it had taken to calm Molly down had taken the last of his strength. He closed his eyes, thoughts of the girl plaguing his mind until he finally fell asleep.